The Downside of Funny

5 11 2015

Way more than one dimension.

Way more than one dimension.

By now, I’m pretty sure you have read at least one article regarding the recent and tragic suicide of Robin Williams. (They are all tragic, by the way.)

It is probably not a new thought that depression and suicide seem to be higher among creative types – musicians, artists, comedians, etc. To be honest, I am not sure if this is actually true or not. I have read articles online that allude to it, give theories as to it, but have not seen a definitive study that is double-blinded, randomized and statistically significant, though one may exist.

To me, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that people understand that human beings are not one dimensional. I can’t imagine a physician, plumber or toll booth operator as not having a sense of humor simply due to their occupation and yet, it seems that when someone is funny, it becomes hard, and at times, unacceptable, for others to accept the mulit-dimensionality of that person. As the saying goes, “everyone loves a clown.” (Though, I hate clowns, and parades, if anyone is curious).

I personally believe that it is called a “sense” of humor because the humility and perspective that humor provides is very much a means by which one can perceive, just like touch, smell, taste, hearing or sight. Humor has helped me defray many a sticky situation. In fact, given how direct and confrontational I can be at times, I cannot imagine how much more so this would be if it were not for humor. I suspect I may never be able to hold down a job or relationship, let alone get through traffic or the deli counter at the local market where the dude behind the counter seems to be perpetually in a bad mood.

My parents are the type of folk that are either your best friends or can be your worst enemies. It’s a bit dramatic but it is to say that they are fiercely loyal but spare no delusions when someone is being less than authentic or worse, dishonest. I come by it honestly. My goal has always to be as fair as possible and try not to be mean. It’s difficult especially when dealing with certain people. I like that people can feel at ease around me and I can make them laugh when things get tough. However, at times, it seems, to those who really don’t know me, as I am considered the Mascot at the game – always the go-to-guy to feel better when in truth, sometimes I’m not up for the task.

When this occurs, there is a distinct difference between those who can see the multi-dimensionality of the person in front of them and those who are disappointed and even a bit angry that I am not in a good mood or a good place. The same gift that might allow certain people to “think outside of the box” is the same heavy cloak that causes us to retreat at times. I don’t know if this makes sense to people who may be more level in their moods. We are all born with a different “level set” and for those who traverse the good and the bad, it can be difficult to explain this to those who are not of the same ilk.

The downside of funny is not really a downside, per se, as much as the other side of funny. Not all comedians are tragic just as all theologians are not righteous. People are more than a sum of their careers, passions and perceptions. The multi-dimensionality exists in all of us but it takes more than a passing encounter to understand, respect and accept it.

Until next time,

Marc

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In this corner, Anxiety. In this corner, Fear.

29 08 2015

Man, this fight sucks.

Man, this fight sucks.

I have written about fear enough times in this blog in the past but when something occurs that reminds me of how powerful this really is, I feel compelled to write about it again.

Just to reiterate what I may have alluded to in the past, I am not speaking of fear associated with flight or fight – the fear of walking down a dark alley in the city at 2 am or being diagnosed with something horrible. I am talking about the fears that we wear as a coat ourselves – either real or imagined – that become part of us without even knowing it and ultimately mold us into who we think we need to be rather than who we are.

I have to admit, that even after seeing that scientific pinnacle of the psychological community “Inside Out” with my kids, I wasn’t sure if fear was truly an emotion. According to Wikipedia (which is not scientific but I trust more than, say, Donald Trump), fear “occurs as the result of threats that are perceived to be uncontrollable or unavoidable” and is related to but “should be distinguished from” the emotion of anxiety.

I also realized that I took for granted that I thought I understood exactly what an emotion was. It is defined as:”an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.”

This is starting to gel now. If my effective state of consciousness is an anxious one, then the resulting experience is fear. If, on the opposite side of the spectrum, my effective state of consciousness is one of contentment, joy is the resulting experience. Makes sense. (Interesting to me how, out of all the experiences referenced in the definition, 75% of them are not so great – necessary but not necessarily great to feel. Had to be written by a Jew – just saying. It’s how we’re wired.)

For many reasons, I had socialized myself to live in a state of anxiety about comedy or anything creative for that matter. I had always done music and that seemed more acceptable but admitting to stand-up always gave me an uncomfortable sqeamish feeling that was hard to ignore. 

Today, my kids and I met long time friends (past neighbors of ours) for brunch and it was just terrific. They have known my family before my kids were even born and I had lost touch with them as I did with many others during this weird 2 year hiatus when I was just trying to get through without anyone knowing what the hell was going on.

In any event, toward the end of our breakfast, they asked me if I was still doing comedy and after replying that I am basically squeezing it whenever I can as long as it doesn’t disrupt the kids etc. – they said something to the affect of “but you’re not giving it up” – almost like holding me to not quitting. It was subtle. Perhaps I read into it. But it was sort of what I needed.

Here’s why. I lived with real and perceived threats around this comedy thing for so long that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy and I became more anxious leading to more fear. It was a cycle of craziness. I had real threats – it was a threat to my marriage in some ways because I just never was able to articulate why it was important and not some sort of low class “hanging out” proposition. It was a perceived threat because I was too worried about what people would think – friends, family, work colleagues. Hell, even to this day, most of my work colleagues don’t have any idea though I am not deliberately hiding it but I’m not going out of my way to advertise it either.

Fear. It can really be crippling.

The one great thing about divorce is that eventually, you can’t hide from it no matter how much you try. Someone has moved out. Someone doesn’t show up to a family function. Some one leaves a ton of crap on your front lawn. It gets noticeable and quick. It’s a good thing. Once that happens, there’s no more anxiety. No more wondering “what if”. There is only the present, and hopefully, the future.

It’s been a great lesson for me for comedy. Some people say comedy ruins people’s lives. I have to say it has only helped mine. I know other comics probably feel the same way. Anxiety may lead to fear but action can lead to contentment. And the circle is complete. Hakuna matata.

Until next time,

Marc

Thanks for reading – I really appreciate it. To get notifications of future blog posts, please sign up to get more blog posts. Also, follow me on Twitter @MarcKaye1 for a daily quip or two. Thanks, Marc





Fill your Comedy Prescription!

2 03 2015

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“No that’s ok, I’ll just stay in and watch my favorite program “Apathy.”

I was really fortunate to be part of two great shows this past week. One was a new show I produced and the second was a show I was invited to be on. They were both great.

Each had about 30 people in the audience, which depending on your frame of reference, could be either impressive or not. Trust me, it is.

It always amazes me the disconnect between attendance at these shows with just amazing comics – the audience was laughing hysterically at both, for example – and the difficulty in getting people out to shows. You get 4 to 6 comedians for anywhere from the price of a drink to $15 and it feels like pulling teeth.

I have had several discussions about this and the reasons behind it, what happened since the heyday of comedy in the 80s, how the internet may have “killed” live comedy, etc. etc., but none of that really matters. What matters is that there is a pool of talent that is just unreal. I guarantee, that for most of you, you can find a great show within a 30 minute ride, if not closer.

It keeps occurring to me that, in the same way Uber has “disrupted” the traditional way in which taxi services are purchased and managed, there is a business model for comedy that is also waiting to be developed and executed. The only big difference in my mind is with respect to demand. City dwellers will always need a cab ride to somewhere. Comedy as a demand? Unfortunately, not so much.

The demand is ready, though. Here’s the thing that people are missing: seeing a good comedian is one of the healthiest and rejuvenating things you can do because laughter is a drug. Like music, sex and yes, real drugs, laughter actually impacts your brain and the way you feel. If I could somehow reach out to the medical associations around the world and actually help write and implement guidelines for “laughter prescriptions”, I would do it.

This is not self serving. It is a real thing and yet we choose to sit at home and watch YouTube, which is not the same thing! In fact, the social aspects of laughing together, or listening to music or other things you can imagine doing “together”, have benefits far greater than doing them alone.

A little research on the scientific and health benefits of laughter reveals the following:

  • Dr. Lee Berk at Loma Linda University found, in the 1980s, that laughter helps in the regulation of stress hormones and were linked to the production of antibodies and endorphins, natural pain killers in the body.
  • In 2003 in the journal Neuron, it was found that humor can help regulate the brain’s dopamine levels associated with mood, motivation, attention and learning.

This is a real thing and I ask each of you – if there is one blog post that you forward on to the 1,000 people in your email distribution list or Facebook, let it be this one.

Go see a comedian! It costs less than a co-pay, it is incredibly good for you, there is no pain involved (sometimes just for the comics) and we have a chance to be part of a comedy resurgence when the talent pool is ripe for the plucking.

And, it last’s longer than sex (or that’s what I hear).

Until next time,

Marc





Searching for the Funny

22 01 2015

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Today started out pretty good. I even got to exercise.

It didn’t end so well.

I’ll spare you the details. It wasn’t an “Unbroken”, “Precious” or “Schindler’s List” bad day – I mean, I have some perspective.

But it hit me hard personally in a way that some of those moments do where you look out in the horizon and you can’t really see much further than your own face. I want so badly to be balanced and yet, when these things happen, despite my best efforts, I fail miserably.

As a comedian, I try to find the funny in moments that are anything but. You know the whole Mark Twain “comedy = tragedy + time” or something similar to that. It’s not so easy when it’s recent and raw. So, it made me think about what do comedians do when they have to “be on” but might not feel funny?

As it turns out, they do the same thing any professional does who has a task at hand and may not feel into it – they get the job done (at least the good ones do). For someone who has his own struggles with anxiety, it is interesting that I would even consider trying to do stand-up, that is until I learned that some of the most anxious people are best in crises, because it causes them to focus on the task at hand and immediately get out of their own head.

I think this is how I have dealt with comedy when I might not feel so funny. Rarely do I find myself just going through the motions – my mouth saying one thing while my head is someplace else – at least when doing comedy. In life? Well, that’s another story.

Fake it till you make it. Make yourself laugh. You can do it and you don’t need to be a comic. In fact, it’s easier if you aren’t. It’s the best form of cognitive behavior therapy, in my opinion (he says as if it is an actual form of CBT, which he doesn’t know). Here’s how: think of something funny or a funny thought/take on something or better yet, experience it by telling the story to a friend (or your imaginary blog friend). It works.

A rule of stage comedians  – don’t just tell your story or joke on stage; actually experience it. So, sometimes, rather than searching and waiting, you have to fake and make. It’s better than the alternative: coping and moping.

Until next time,

Marc





CHANGING HATS by Feature Blogger Joan Weisblatt

9 07 2013
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Former Lawyer Gone Funny!

Frequently, people assume that the skills I developed over 30 years as a lawyer serve me well as a comedian. I would argue that the skills I developed as a lawyer, in certain ways, have impeded my development as a comedian. The one obvious way that my legal experience has helped me is that I’m not afraid to get up in front of people and speak; but speaking to a jury and cracking jokes for an audience could not be more different.

As an attorney, I always excelled at delivering opening and closing statements at trial.  I researched, wrote, gathered and synthesized the evidence and presented it with some oratorical skill.  This was a performance, and, at first blush, it would appear that the skills needed for that performance would assist me as a stand up comic.  The problem is that stand up comedy is not just a performance. Yes, it takes tremendous preparation and the ability to tell a story in an interesting way, but  there is so much more to stand up. On the stage, it’s not only about connection; it’s about a living, breathing interaction with the audience.

In court, the lawyer presents and the jury is impassive.  Any further interaction between a lawyer and juror at trial could lead to the removal of either or both or maybe even a mistrial. The lawyer’s job is to make the jury understand and feel, but not to overtly react.  On the other hand,  if a comedian jokes and the audience is impassive, that means the comedian hasn’t reached the audience and the comedian bombs.  When done right, there is an energy from the comedian that feeds the audience and a return of energy to the comedian from the audience which feeds the comedian.

A great example of the difference between a legal presentation and a comedy act was televised recently during the Trayvon Martin trial. The defense attorney at this murder trial told the jury a knock-knock joke concerning how difficult it was to get an impartial jury.  No one on the jury laughed and the lawyer said, “Nothing?” commenting on the jury’s lack of reaction to the joke. This is a technique that comedians sometimes use to salvage the moment following a joke that didn’t work.

The whole affair was embarrassing and highly inappropriate, not only because the joke itself wasn’t funny, but because the jury was not there to be entertained. One wouldn’t give an opening statement on a comedy stage anymore than a lawyer would crack a joke before the jury and hope for a hearty laugh.

Therein lies the difficulty for me as an attorney-turned-comedian. As an attorney, my object was to seize and maintain control of the jury through a carefully orchestrated performance because shooting from the hip or interacting with the jury could have such grave consequences. The best comedy welcomes and encourages spontaneity, interaction and transfer of energy. It’s hasn’t been easy to take off my lawyer hat after having it on for 30 years, but it’s starting to give way. 

Joan Weisblatt left the practice of law after 30 years when the comedian inside her  could no longer be contained. She performs at clubs, fundraisers and other events all over New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Joan also a member of the nationally-acclaimed stand up comedy troupe, Comedians at Law. As though this were not enough, Joan delivers keynote speeches about her amazing journey from law to comedy.  You may follow Joan on her website  at joanweisblattcomedy.com, read her Sunday blogposts on comediansatlaw.com and contact her at joanweisblatt@gmail.com.

 

 
 

 








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